This is a weird thought I have quite often when hanging out with my cat. The thought could relate to any animal but since I spend more time with my cat than I do with any other of the animal species (even slugs) here I will relate this thought to cats.
My weird thought is: do cats have a sense of humour? Do they have wit? I believe they do. I think they are deeply sarcastic. At least, every cat I have ever owned has had a penchant for sarcasm and irony.
Anyone who owns a pet of any sort (except perhaps a stick insect) will tell you that their pet has a personality. People who work closely with animals will also say so. Dogs can be timid, lively, noisy, quiet, loving, hostile and aggressive. They can be deeply loyal. Cats can be timid, lively, noisy (my cat is very noisy), quiet, loving, hostile and aggressive. I’ve never had a rabbit, snake, guinea pig or rat but I’m sure they have personalities too.
Science is gradually finding out that cats, and other animals, feel emotions. Bizarrely, this notion has been little studied until the last few decades. Biologists of the 18th- and 19th-centuries seemed relatively uninterested in the emotional lives of animals. Perhaps we will never know exactly how they feel emotions. We can never know exactly what it is like to be a cat. We can know what it might be like to be like a cat. We can study brain patterns and patterns of behaviour in cats. But we can’t be cats. Philosophers who ponder this argue that consciousness is always subjective and cannot be reduced to physical values. I agree with them. I think this applies to other humans as well. I can empathize with a friend who is upset but I can never truly know how they feel, even if the same thing happens to me. It particularly applies to animals. I can never truly know what it is to be a cat. Even if my cat could tell me, I am not a cat myself.
One well-known scientist in the field of animal studies believes that all mammals may have a sense of humour. Marc Beckoff, author of The Emotional Lives of Animals, thinks we are on the cusp of being able to prove this. His argument is partly based on Darwinian theory which states that the difference between human and animal intelligence is a matter of degree, not of kind.
Other scientists have discovered that dogs can recognise unfairness, spiders have moods and bees can feel pessimistic. I like the idea of glass-is-half-empty bees.
In the late 1990s, some other scientists, under the guidance of psychologist Jaak Panksepp, decided to tickle rats. They found that if they did, the rats gave off a high-pitched sound inaudible to the human ear. Basically, a ultrasound giggle. Interestingly, the rats sought to be ticked further. They enjoyed laughing.
Vet Jonathan Cracknell claims that he has observed crows sliding down snow and repeating the action, apparently enjoying it. He states that there is no evolutionary benefit to this activity so they must be just having fun.
Next time it snows, I suggest you go and watch the crows having fun. As for me and my cat? We’re going to watch an Episode of The Big Bang Theory now. She loves it.
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